Daughter of Smoke and Bone – Laini Taylor

And now for something completely different. Not Hamilton, alas. Still not Hamilton. One day. Instead, something a little more sophisticated that my last few reads. By someone who can actually write. And plot. And build a perplexing, beguiling and exciting world I really want to read about.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone is the story of Karou, a teenage girl half in the human world and half involved in the world of magical creatures. So far so predictable. Teenage romance fantasy. But it’s not quite. I mean, it is a bit teeny-romance, but only in the corners. What it mostly is is a confusion as we try, along with Karou, to figure out what the hell is going on. And it takes a while. And is totally worth it. No really. I hate romance, for the most part, and I was willing to forgive it for the rest of the book, and the slow way the plot is revealed. And just… it’s not obvious. It’s not set somewhere obvious, the characters aren’t obvious, even the romance plot isn’t obvious (I kept mis-predicting twists, even when I predicted them with utter, ardent certainty). And that’s marvellous.

What else is marvellous is the book, particularly being a bit on the teen-girl-romance side of things, represents precisely what has been lacking from a lot of my recent reading: characters. We actually get to know Karou, really, really know her, and we understand how she feels and how a lot of the supporting cast feel and we get to actually care about them. And, in shocking news for anyone who knows my general tastes, I like her. Yep. Female fictional character I actually like and care about and want to succeed. It’s awesome.

But there are downsides. As you can probably guess from the title, the writing style tends towards the pretentious. Not as much as you might guess, in fairness, and Taylor handles it well, but there is an over-fondness for descriptive passages that sort of lets her down a little. She’s good at descriptions, don’t get me wrong, but just their being there kind of lends an air of pretense and teenage melodrama that isn’t strictly necessary. It especially crops up in her descriptions of people. She makes some of them a bit too ethereal. Even though it’s a fantasy novel and this sort of thing is part of the territory, some people are just too perfect, too beautiful. She even says so herself and then continues to over-egg it. It just feels like she could have achieved the same effect or better without having to labour and re-hash the point each time some characters appear. A small thing, maybe, but it sort of stains the rest of the book.

On the other hand, that is my major criticism. Everything else I enjoyed. So I can let it slide for now. Because it’s a contrast to my recent reading, and a fairly stark contrast too, I actually enjoyed the pretentious style and the slightly florid writing. The plot, for what the book is, is, I think, genuinely good, and it is nicely paced with a slow and torturous reveal of information we want right from the start. It feels balanced and polished and I have a wonderful, calm euphoria having finished. It felt beautifully complete. Which I am clearly struggling to articulate because I am making hand gestures at the laptop as I try to figure out what to type. It is a hand-wavey sort of book, in the best way. And it is satisfying, like a lot of books aren’t. It ended on a cliff-hanger (spoilers, there’s a sequel) and I was ok with that. Yes, I want to read the sequel but I’m also just happy with this book, that it is. And that’s a nice feeling.

On the other hand, I don’t think I love it. It deserves to be loved, much more than Shadowfall does, and more than Percy Jackson deserved to be read, but I don’t. I’m not sure why. I think it comes down to the romance. I said I could forgive it, but I think, ultimately, I can’t bring myself to care a huge amount for a book geared towards a romance plot. The romance isn’t major and centre-stage most of the time, but it lurks, and I know it’s there and it just ruins it for me. Because I am a grumpy killjoy who hates love… or something. Other people with romance in their souls should read it and enjoy it properly.

Next time, hopefully (if I can ever do what I intend to do), I will re-read Vellum. I feel this requires some sort of ritual preparation. Possibly a bottle of wine and a week-long abstinence from sleep. Maybe this time, I’ll be able to explain the plot.

And while we’re giving intentions, Hamilton is still on the to-read pile. I will get there. I damn well will. Just… when I have more time to think about what I’m reading.


About readerofelse

A student of a redundant, useless and thoroughly interesting subject and reader of many books, particularly fantasy, science fiction and plenty else besides.
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